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The Story of Janusz Korczak and His Children

by David A. Adler & illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

Age Range: 6 - 10

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8234-1548-1
Publisher: Holiday House

A biography of the Polish doctor and children’s author who became director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw, in which capacity he comforted hundreds of children during the Holocaust. Korczak, himself Jewish (born Henryk Goldzsmit), took up his pen name as a child to appeal to a Gentile audience; as an adult, he dispensed homely advice over the radio, still downplaying his Jewish identity. In his capacity as director of the orphanage, he offered resistance to the Nazis and succor to the children. Korczak emerges as a virtual saint who, as the children were forced into the ghetto, led them in a parade so they would not be frightened. Farnsworth (Great Stone Face, not reviewed, etc.) delivers somber and atmospheric watercolors, painting a genial yet dignified Korczak. (Although, frustratingly, he declines to illustrate the green flag of Korczak’s character King Matt, mentioned in the text twice, which the children carried on the way to the ghetto and then to the trains to give them heart.) Adler (A Picture Book of Dwight David Eisenhower, p. 1214, etc.) does a creditable job of placing Korczak in history, describing simply the looming anti-Semitism of pre-war Poland and leading Korczak, children, and reader into the Warsaw Ghetto together. However, this work must be read or taught in concert with others on the same subject. The author sidesteps the actual nature of the concentration camp to which Korczak and his children were taken, writing only that the “train took [the Jews] to Treblinka. . . . There were signs for trains to other cities. But for Jews, there were no trains out of Treblinka. Janusz Korczak died there with his children.” Introducing the horrors of the Holocaust to young children is no easy feat, but surely treating them honestly is better than such disingenuousness. Reading in isolation, children will wonder what is heroic about a man who calmly led children he loved to these mysterious deaths. Worthy, but needs supplementation. (author’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)